“I will radicalize actions against drug smugglers,” President Nicolas Maduro stated this week, while congratulating the armed forces for destroying two light planes that reportedly entered Venezuelan airspace without authorization on Saturday and Monday.
The first of the two aircraft was detected by Venezuelan authorities late Saturday night. Speaking to VTV, General Vladimir Padrino stated that the plane had no visible identification, and failed to respond to radio commands.
Two Venezuelan fighter jets were deployed to ground the plane as it was flying north east of Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas state. According to Padrino the plane took evasive action, and failed to respond to the Venezuelan pilots.
In a press release, the National Anti-Drug Office (ONA) stated that the plane then crash landed on a jungle airstrip in the south of Apure state.
The aircraft was only fired upon after “all other means of persuasion had been exhausted”, Padrino said.
“This was the first plane shot mid-air in the country since the approval of the Law and Control Regulation for the Comprehensive Defense of National Airspace, following the orders of our commander-in-chief, President Nicolas Maduro,” he stated.
The law gives the military wider powers to take action against illegal overflights.
“Any plane entering Venezuela is going to be obliged to land in peace. If not, it will be brought down by our Sukhoi jets, our F-16s and by all of the Venezuelan military aviation force,” Maduro stated earlier this month.
The new legislation is part of the government’s efforts to crack down on international drug smugglers, who are increasingly using Venezuela as a transit country for markets in North America and Europe.
“Drug mafias are seeking to use our country as a drug delivery platform, violating our airspace,” ONA head Alejandro Keleris stated.
The second plane was also intercepted north east of Puerto Ayacucho, and shot down under similar circumstances, according to authorities.
Both aircraft were “apparently coming from Guatemala”, Padrino stated.
Along with the two planes shot down this week, 11 other aircraft have been grounded by Venezuelan authorities this year; mostly for allegedly being used by drug traffickers.
Padrino told VTV that Venezuela’s recently upgraded air defense systems have made it easier for authorities to intercept illegal flights.
In July, Maduro announced that a revamped air defense system had been deployed in Venezuela’s western states, including new artillery. The president described it as “the most powerful system in the world”.
“Our homeland is unassailable. Nobody will be able to touch even an inch,” he stated.
Along with improved air defense, according to Padrino Venezuelan authorities have also stepped up efforts tackle narcotics traffickers on the ground. The Bolivarian National Guard has reportedly seized over 35 tons of narcotics this year.
10% of hauls have taken place in the past two months, according to Padrino.
“The FANB [Venezuela’s armed forces] is prepared against threats that aim to disrupt the governability and tranquility of the people,” Padrino said.
Earlier this week, Maduro warned that “drug gangs in Colombia and Central America” that move narcotics through Venezuela will be the targets of new anti-drug legislation the president hopes to pass if granted decree powers by the National Assembly under the Enabling Law.
“With the Enabling Law I will create special mechanisms to protect the authorities that deal with the corrupt and drug traffickers,” he said.
According to Maduro, new support would be given to military personnel, police and judges to combat drugs.